The fate of the Sports East Fitness Club proposal is once again in the hands of the Southold Zoning Board of Appeals.
The plan was before the ZBA this afternoon at the request of the attorney for Sports East Fitness Club to evaluate whether Sports East is a “membership club” under the town zoning code and may be built on residentially zoned property on Main Road in Mattituck. The building department recently denied Sports East’s revised plans.
Over 50 people attended the hearing and many took to the podium to voice their support or objection to the proposed fitness club. When emotions ran high several times, chairperson Leslie Weisman had to remind people that the purpose of the hearing was not to evaluate the merits of the club, but to evaluate whether it was permitted or not.
Charles Cuddy, lawyer for Sports East, asked the board to carefully consider the town code’s definition of a membership club.
“This is an interpretation of a definition which I think needs to be read very carefully,” he said.
According to Southold town code, a club — “membership or country or golf” — is defined as “an entity established for the principal purpose of engaging in outdoor sports, such as golf, tennis, swimming, fishing, hunting or similar activities, but not including any form of aviation, outdoor trap, skeet or target shooting or motorboat racing.”
Cuddy said that it was imperative that everyone have the same understanding of what the definition means, adding that golf, tennis and swimming, all mentioned in the definition, are activities proposed for Sports East and that the plans had been modified to have an outdoor to indoor ratio of two to one.
“Every part of this has to be given your attention,” Cuddy said.
Sports East partner Paul Pawlowski expressed his confusion as to why the building department would issue a denial referencing an old application and the ZBA’s denial on the previous application, saying that he submitted an entirely new application.
“They outright denied our application and only referenced your late-2016 ZBA denial for Sports East,” he said. “I bring this up because I ask you to review this without prejudice and please know we have put forth a big effort to reduce the scale of this project and align exactly with the code. As the code reads, we are permitted to have a membership club.”
Pawlowski described what he envisioned a day at Sports East to be like, comparing it to the Laurel Links Country Club in Southold Town, reminding the board that Laurel Links is located on R-80 property and received a special exception.
At Laurel Links, one can “play golf on the golf course, use the golf practice areas,” he said. “Once done use the locker rooms, purchase items in the pro shop, then take a swim in the pool or play some tennis. After that, eat at the restaurant, use the gym, lounge or aerobics room.”
Pawlowski said that Sports East compares extremely well to Laurel Links, mentioning location, benefit to the community and the fact that they were allowed to build on R-80 land by special exception.
“We need your support,” he said. “To the people against this, please trust that this application is in the best interests of the community at large and the positives outweigh the negatives.”
Several residents of Sigsbee Road, which borders the proposed Sports East facility, voiced their objections.
Joy Ellinghaus referred to developments such as Sports East as “transient short-term project(s) that in the scheme of things brings no inherent long-term value to the beauty and the landscape of the area.”
Peggy Toner said she was not opposed to the facility, just to its proposed location.
“We bought property in an area zoned residential,” said Linda Mule, who owns two homes on Sigsbee Road. “We did not buy property in an area zoned commercial. When I heard the amount of parking spaces my head almost exploded,” she said. “People will be zipping up and down Sigsbee Road, which they already do. This will only make it more dangerous.”
There were many people who spoke in support of Sports East, including Jerry Diffley of Mattituck, who said that there was a need in the community and encouraged the board to “keep an open mind” if there was ambiguity in the definition and “err on the side of use of the permit.”
“I see so many positive aspects of this,” said Maureen Brisotti of Cutchogue. “This is an opportunity for people in the community to come together in the middle of the winter and do something healthy.“
“This is not a want, this is a need,” said Mindy Ryan of Greenport.
Sports East partner Steve Marsh said that the project was never about making money and called the facility a gift to the community.
Weisman adjourned the hearing to the special meeting of the zoning board of appeals on August 17, giving anyone who wasn’t able to attend an additional two weeks to provide written comments to the board.